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Santa Ana rail station upgrades are sought

Times Staff Writer

A year has come and gone, and Karol Potter is dreading another long, hot summer.

A loyal Metrolink rider, she complained last year that the bustling, sun-baked east platform of the Santa Ana train station lacked basic human comforts, such as shade, drinking water and restrooms.

In October, Potter was among 140 frustrated train riders who signed a petition asking the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, Orange County Transportation Authority and city of Santa Ana to provide a little relief.

So far, it hasn’t arrived.

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“In the summer it gets so hot,” said Potter, 51. “Women sweat in business attire standing out there in the sun.”

Potter lives in Menifee, between Lake Elsinore and Hemet, and prefers making the 59-mile commute to her Orange County job in Santa Ana by rail or carpool. Like many Inland Empire commuters, she undertakes a radical morning ritual dictated by her devotion to mass transit:

Her alarm goes off at 2:50 a.m. and she leaves her house by 4:15 a.m. to make the 33-mile drive to Corona, which has the nearest station on the Inland Empire-Orange County line. Because she and other commuters leave in the dark, they are often wrapped in thick business suits, sweaters and jackets to ward off the morning chill.

Potter and other members of the Coalition of Metrolink Riders see themselves as the rail system’s target audience and wonder, as the transportation agencies prepare to increase service, why their comfort is not of greater concern.

By 2010, the goal is to have commuter trains running every 30 minutes from 5 a.m. to midnight weekdays between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel. Seven locomotives and 59 passenger cars have been ordered, new track has been laid and parking lot improvements are scheduled or underway for stations in Fullerton, Orange, Tustin, Irvine and Laguna Niguel.

Metrolink officials say the responsibility for making improvements at the historic Santa Ana station rests with the city. But city officials say they share the concerns of Potter and others. The city has applied for funds from OCTA for the upgrades but won’t know until sometime this summer whether it will get the money, officials said.

Metrolink riders Rick Strengberg, 55, and Cecilio Bonilla, 57, say the Santa Ana station has several design flaws that make life tougher for passengers. A ticket machine, for instance, faces the sun, making it unreadable in daylight hours, and it frequently breaks down. In addition, riders who have a 10-trip pass must validate their tickets before boarding.

“Those are the ones you see running,” said Strengberg, who rides the train daily from Chino to his job in Santa Ana.

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Riders must climb the station’s pedestrian bridge to reach the east platform, often forcing those who have to validate or purchase tickets to break into a jog to make the train. In the past, riders would sometimes cross the tracks to reach the east platform, an action deemed highly dangerous by Metrolink officials. But the pedestrian bridge has put a stop to such track jumping.

“Some stations have no amenities of any kind,” said Denise Tyrrell, a Metrolink spokeswoman. “Our primary concern is the safety of the passengers, and we thought the pedestrian bridge was an excellent choice because of many individuals walking across the track.”

But the walk to the bridge takes time, and sometimes passengers, especially those running late, can be seen eyeing wristwatches nervously trying to decide whether they have time to use the restroom before bolting up the stairs. One plus, Tyrrell said, is that each passenger car has a restroom and is air-conditioned.

The picturesque depot, the third-busiest Metrolink station in Orange County with 1,766 daily riders, does have a cafe and indoor seating, while stations in San Clemente and Mission Viejo, which are used less, have neither.

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With the added Metrolink service, annual ridership at the Santa Ana station is expected to double to more than a million by 2030, said James G. Ross, Santa Ana’s public works executive director.

“We are looking at enhancements to the station that include more parking and some upgrades” that Potter suggested,” Ross said. “It’s overdue for updates.”

Riders are already afraid that adding station comforts will mean higher ticket prices, Potter said. She took exception to a recent report that the city plans to paint the station and install surveillance cameras -- using money she believes could have gone for canopies on the east platform.

“Well, maybe if they added more amenities to the station and other stations where there are none, more people would use the stations,” she said.

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david.reyes@latimes.com


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